The Collegian
Thursday, February 22, 2024

Get outside: Must-visit hiking trails in Virginia

<p>View from the top of the Humpback Rocks.</p>

View from the top of the Humpback Rocks.

The University of Richmond is filled with diligent and passionate students, but all the hard work may make campus feel isolating. The Virginia landscape can help students escape the intense environment. 

As the semester started to get busy, I felt overwhelmed with applying for internships, taking classes and going to my internship downtown. I began to feel claustrophobic on campus. I checked in with my friends and realized we all had an urge to get away. 

The morning of Saturday, Feb. 15, we drove about 90 miles northwest of Richmond to the Humpback Rocks Visitor Center off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Within the first 10 miles of our drive we forgot about the things we had to do back on campus. 

This trail is perfect for all levels of hikers because it is about 2.5 miles round trip, but it is a strenuous climb to the view. The top of the hike is a collection of boulders called the Humpback Rocks that overlook the Rockfish and Shenandoah Valleys.

“The first uphill part is kind of rough, but it's all worth it once you get to the top and get to enjoy the view,” said junior John Bolton, who grew up in Virginia and has hiked Humpback Rocks a number of times. “Being up there with those people not on your phones and just enjoying the moment is awesome.”

Sometimes it isn’t always easy for students to get off campus, though, Bolton said.

“I don't think anyone tries to stay in their bubble, they just think they will get to it,” Bolton said, “until you realize you are a junior in college and you haven't done anything. For me the best way is to make a list of the things I want to do off campus and try to hold myself to it.” 

Ellie Curtis, a sophomore in the Earth Lodge living-learning community, which is focused on sustainability and outdoor education, says she appreciates the value for students of being outdoors.

“It really helps you take your mind off of everything else that is going on,” Curtis said. “I think innately everyone needs to be in nature but we get disconnected from that because we're so plugged into our school work and social media, but I think in general people would be a lot happier if they made time for it.”

There are also great trails just a few minutes from campus. UR alumnus Phil Riggan, ‘92, reflected about his first experiences in Richmond exploring the outdoors and the easily accessible trails. 

“As a student at UR just getting down to Pony Pasture was a big deal for me to get off campus, as a freshman and sophomore I would ride my bike down there,” Riggan said. “Some of those short hikes are where you can really see some of the coolest things in Richmond.”

Riggan said he has appreciated Richmond’s hiking opportunities so much he wrote the third edition of a hiking book called “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Richmond.” 

Two hikes Riggan suggested for students trying to escape campus were a short hike around Belle Isle and the North Bank Trail. Both of these feature what he called an “urban wildness,” where you are in the middle of the city but still essentially in the wild.

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“Getting downtown you can see the skyline and the tall buildings, but you can also get a good feel for being out in the mountains if you just look at the right angle, you just close your eyes to miss the urban distractions,” Riggan said.

Bolton suggested that students try out a portion of the Virginia Capital Trail, which runs from Richmond to Williamsburg. 

Outside of Richmond there are even more hiking opportunities. Virginia has almost 40 open state parks, and Pocahontas State Park and Powhatan State Park are both less than 30 miles from campus. Both of these parks have multiple hikes appropriate for a range of skill levels that can separate you from the campus bubble. 

The UR Outdoor Adventure and Recreation Program also provides individual students the opportunity to appreciate the outdoors. The OAR plans excursions such as a hiking trip, a kayaking trip or a ski trip for students or faculty members interested in participating for prices as low as $10. 

The OAR program also offers custom outdoor adventures for groups larger than 6 people, such as a local day hike, tubing, indoor climbing or biking for prices as low as $5 per person. 

According to their website, these trips can be half a day long or be an overnight camping trip. They will provide a staff member to guide and assist you for your trips. 

Contact contributor Claire Paulhac at

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